The Nordic Histories of the AIDS Epidemic 1-3


The cultural understanding of AIDS, first labelled ‘gay cancer’, was culturally, politically, and morally charged from its inception, and as the virus spread rapidly, it emerged as both a serious medical condition and ‘an epidemic of meanings and signification’. Since 1981, the epidemic has radically changed cultures of sex, intimacy, identity, and community.

Little research has documented the history of AIDS in Nordic region; most studies have focused on the US. The Nordic histories of the epidemic differ greatly from the ones of the US-American contexts: In the early stages of the AIDS epidemic the Nordic welfare states intervened in the epidemic with active support and regulation of the gay male population. Though these regulations were deployed differently in the region, the crisis enabled the active collaboration between grassroots organisations and state authorities in all Nordic countries and, thus, formed the contours of LGBT+ politics in the years to come.

Over three panels, this session zooms in to the Nordic AIDS histories with its regional commonalities and differences to understand how the epidemic played out to and how it has influenced today’s sexual politics and understandings of HIV/AIDS:

The first panel explores the collaboration between activist organizations and state authorities in the context of the Nordic welfare states during the epidemic. Ketil Slagstad (NO), Lena Lennerhed & Jens Rydström (SV), Hafdís Erla Hafsteinsdóttir (IS) and Isa Dussage (NO) present papers.

The second panel explores the ways in which we remember the epidemic. Which methodologies enables us to collect ephemeral sources to tell the (affective and aesthetic) story of the epidemic? Bolette Frydendahl Larsen (DK), Dirk Gindt (SV) and Michael Nebeling Petersen (DK) present papers.

The third panel explores new Nordic research on the contemporary formations and discourses of HIV/AIDS. Do affective histories of virus still haunt its undetectable emergences in a (bio)technical age of PrEP and antiretroviral therapies? Jeffrey Christensen (SV), Tony Sandset (NO) and Kristian Møller (DK) present papers.


Mons Bissenbakker is an associate professor, Ph.D., and is head of the Centre for Gender Studies at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. His research concerns the biopolitics of affect in the intersections between queer, feminist, de-colonial and crip theory as reflected in a wide range of cultural products such as fiction, film & TV, public debates, discourses of law, etc. Mons is a senior researcher for the collaborative project The Cultural History of AIDS in Denmark (CHAD) in which he will be investigating cultural representations of aids in film and literature.

Jeffrey A. Christensen holds a PhD in Technology and Social Change from Linköping University. His dissertation investigated both the intense and mundane relations of accountability that are enacted by practices of HIV governance. With a praxiography of Swedish HIV treatment, he showed how the subject of governance becomes a manifold subject - a subject enacted in multiple material, technical, ethical, and practical ways. His PhD research described and analysed the means through which the manifold subject of HIV care takes shape in legal, diagnostic, surveillance, and treatment practices.

Isa Dussauge is a researcher in social and historical studies of medicine (holds a Ph.D. in the history of technology since 2008). They are currently conducting historical research on drug users ’ organizations and users’ activism in Norway, within the broader research project BIO– Biomedicalization from the Inside Out, at the Institute of Health and Society, University of Oslo. They also have a recurring interest in critical studies of sexuality. Their most influential contribution has been their collaborative work on the pragmatist sociology of values practices and valuation in the life sciences (Dussauge, Lee and Helgesson 2015).

Dirk Gindt holds a PhD in Theatre Studies and is a Professor in the Department of Culture and Aesthetics at Stockholm University. He has published over twenty referred journal articles and book chapters, is the co-editor of the volume Viral Dramaturgies: HIV and AIDS in Performance in the Twenty-First Century (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018) and the author of the monograph Tennessee Williams in Sweden and France, 1945-1965: Cultural Translations, Sexual Anxieties and Racial Fantasies (Bloomsbury, 2019). Gindt’s current research, financed by a four-year grant from the Swedish Research Council, analyses Indigenous performance cultures in the Arctic. Gindt is also a member of the editorial board of Theatre Research International.

Hafdís Erla Hafsteinsdóttir is a PhD student in at the History department of the University of Iceland. Her Phd thesis explores the cultural history of HIV/aids in Iceland with a special focus on discourses on sexual rights and citizenship. The thesis is a part of the project From sexual outlaws to model citizens (SOMoC) which explores the relations between queer sexualities and nationality in Iceland, 1944–2010. It is the first comprehensive research on the history of queer sexualities in Iceland and adds important insights to studies of Icelandic nationality. Her previous projects are editing Svo veistu að þú varst ekki hér, a peer reviewed article collection on queer history in Iceland and editor of Hidden Women a web collection of sources on female queer sexualities in Iceland.

Bolette Frydendahl Larsen holds a PhD in History and is a researcher at the Department of Gender Studies at Lund University. Her research focus is the cultural history of welfare and medicine with a focus on changes in gender and sexuality. In her PhD-project she investigated the relations between institutional practices and psychiatric knowledge in 20th Century child welfare in Denmark. She is especially interested in how biopolitics and liberal rule affect everyday lives. In 2022 she will start a postdoc project as part of the collaborative project The Cultural History of AIDS in Denmark at University of Copenhagen. In this project she will explore how the epidemic shaped the lives and deaths of those who lived with the disease.

Lena Lennerhed is professor in History of Ideas at Södertörn University. Her research focus is sexuality, reproduction and medicine in twentieth-century Sweden. Her publications include books and articles on sex reform, sex-liberalism and abortion, and she is the author of Kvinnotrubbel. Abort i Sverige 1938-1974 (2017).

Michael Nebeling Petersen is PI for the collaborative project The Cultural History of AIDS in Denmark and associate professor of Gender Studies at University of Copenhagen. He researches and teaches within gender studies. He has studied homosexual culture and history, the cultural history of AIDS, queer kinship, reproduction technologies, biomedicalization and new cultures of intimacy on digital and social media. He is especially interested in intersections between sexuality, gender, race, and national belonging.

Kristian Møller is an assistant professor in communication at Roskilde University. He researches how LGBTQ intimacies are mediated, platformed and infrastructred, drawing mainly on queer theory, affect, and assemblage. He has published on reproduction of HIV stigma in dating/hook-up apps, the mediated negotiation of non-monogamous relationships, sexualized drug use on video conferencing services like Zoom, the algorithmic production of porn genres and sexual publics, as well as digital mobile ethnography and ethics.

Jens Rydström is historian and professor in Gender Studies at Lund University. His research focus is history of sexuality in Sweden, queer theory and critical disability studies. His latest book-length publication is Loneliness and its opposite. Sex, disability, and the ethics of engagement (with Don Kulick, 2015).

Tony Sandset is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare Education (SHE) at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Oslo, where he received his PhD. His current research focuses on knowledge translation within the field of HIV care and prevention. Specifically, his focus is on how medical knowledge is mediated, how evidence is generated in HIV prevention and how new medical technologies informs subjectivities, desire, and sexuality. Another of his research areas pertains to the intersection between race, gender, class and HIV care and prevention. Relating race, class and gender to how medical knowledge is disseminated and translated from research to clinical and community usage is of particular interest here.

Ketil Slagstad is a PhD student at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Oslo. He was a trained as a medical doctor and is now affiliated with the research project Biomedicalization from the Inside Out where he does research on the history of transgender medicine in a Scandinavian context. His research interests lie at the intersection between the history science and medicine and STSstudies. Among his most recent publications are "The Political Nature of Sex - Transgender in the History of Medicine" (New England Journal of Medicine, 2021), "The Pasts, Presents and Futures of AIDS, Norway (1983-1996)" (Social History of Medicine, 2020) and "The Amphibious Nature of AIDS Activism: Medical Professionals and Gay and Lesbian Communities in Norway, 1975-87", (Medical History, 2020). 

Published Sep. 21, 2021 2:20 PM - Last modified Sep. 21, 2021 2:20 PM